What is Mississippi’s Castle Doctrine, or, Can I shoot somebody on my porch?

Castle Doctrine laws, or “castle laws,” are based on very old English common law, which recognized that someone’s home is a place where they should be free from illegal trespassing or violent attacks.  As such, the laws gave citizens the right to defend their home (their “castle”), from violent attacks or intrusions, to the extent of using deadly force if necessary.  Each state’s laws are different with regards to the Castle Doctrine, with some having no law at all, all the way to the other extreme, which is where Mississippi is on it.  Basically, the law allows you to defend your home against attack or intrusion without criminal or civil consequences.

In 2006, Mississippi enacted one of the nation’s most extensive “Castle Doctrine” laws.  Instead of making an entirely new law, Mississippi’s castle doctrine comes from an amendment to the already existing “justifiable homicide” statute.  Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-15.  This law reads, in relevant part:

1) The killing of a human being by the act, procurement or omission of another shall be justifiable in the following cases:

(e) When committed by any person in resisting any attempt unlawfully to kill such person or to commit any felony upon him, or upon or in any dwelling, in any occupied vehicle, in any place of business, in any place of employment or in the immediate premises thereof in which such person shall be;

(f) When committed in the lawful defense of one’s own person or any other human being, where there shall be reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury, and there shall be imminent danger of such design being accomplished;

A “dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind that has a roof over it, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, including a tent, that is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night, including any attached porch;

 (3) A person who uses defensive force shall be presumed to have reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm, or the commission of a felony upon him or another or upon his dwelling, or against a vehicle which he was occupying, or against his business or place of employment or the immediate premises of such business or place of employment, if the person against whom the defensive force was used, was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, occupied vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or if that person had unlawfully removed or was attempting to unlawfully remove another against the other person’s will from that dwelling, occupied vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof and the person who used defensive force knew or had reason to believe that the forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred. This presumption shall not apply if the person against whom defensive force was used has a right to be in or is a lawful resident or owner of the dwelling, vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or is the lawful resident or owner of the dwelling, vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or if the person who uses defensive force is engaged in unlawful activity or if the person is a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his official duties;

(4) A person who is not the initial aggressor and is not engaged in unlawful activity shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force under subsection (1)(e) or (f) of this section if the person is in a place where the person has a right to be, and no finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the person’s failure to retreat as evidence that the person’s use of force was unnecessary, excessive or unreasonable.

(5)    (a) The presumptions contained in subsection (3) of this section shall apply in civil cases in which self-defense or defense of another is claimed as a defense.

(b) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant acted in accordance with subsection (1)(e) or (f) of this section. A defendant who has previously been adjudicated “not guilty” of any crime by reason of subsection (1)(e) or (f) of this section shall be immune from any civil action for damages arising from same conduct.

If you read this carefully you will see that Mississippi takes the Castle Doctrine to the extreme, not only allowing you to defend your home (porches especially), but also your car, your place of employment, or practically anywhere you have a legal right to be.  Also, unlike some states, you do not have to retreat before you take action to defend yourself.  Last, but not least, the law added civil immunity (you can’t be sued) if you are forced to defend yourself in accordance with this law.

A couple of quick points about this law:

  1. It is limited to the defense of people, not property.
  2. It does not affect gun ownership rights in any way (i.e., if you cannot possess a gun for some reason, then this does not confer on you the right to have one).

This law has only been around for four years, and I’ve already had a few cases that have had castle doctrine implications.  As always, there are exceptions and nuances to this law, as any other, so do not believe that this law has turned your front porch into a target range.  If you have been accused of a crime, and you believe you were within your rights to defend yourself under this law, give me a call and let’s think it through.  I am here to help.